The SourceCivil Engineering MagazineHouse Democrats propose sweeping climate change bill

House Democrats propose sweeping climate change bill

By Jay Landers

Following the recent enactment of the massive $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, Democrats in Congress are looking to follow their victory with major infrastructure legislation. Against this backdrop, leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have offered their own ambitious blueprint for what they would like such legislation to include. Dubbed the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act, or the CLEAN Future Act (H.R. 1512), the proposal focuses heavily on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the wide-ranging legislation also includes provisions related to safe drinking water and dam safety.

Introduced March 2, the 981-page bill offers a “comprehensive and ambitious plan to ensure the United States acts aggressively to tackle the climate crisis in the 2020s and achieves net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by no later than 2050,” according to a summary of the legislation provided by the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the chair of the committee, is the lead sponsor of the bill.

“At the heart of the bill is a commitment to achieving a 50% reduction in GHG emissions from 2005 levels by no later than 2030 and a 100% clean economy by no later than 2050,” the summary states. “The legislation includes both sector-specific and economywide solutions to achieve these goals, authorizing $565 billion over ten years to enable deep decarbonization.” Among the sectors addressed by H.R. 1512 are power, transportation, and industry.

Competing visions

Supporters of the legislation tout it as an economically beneficial approach to facilitate efforts to decarbonize America’s economy. “This legislation will create millions of homegrown jobs in a climate-resilient economy, ensuring our workers and businesses can compete in the 21st century transition to clean technology that’s already happening,” Pallone said in a March 2 news release issued by the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

However, the bill’s detractors view it as a heavy-handed, partisan effort that ultimately would end up hurting the American economy. H.R. 1512 is “full of more mandates and regulations that will raise energy prices, export jobs overseas, and weaken our national security,” said Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; Fred Upton, R-Mich.; and David McKinley, R-W.Va. in a joint statement issued March 2. Rodgers is the ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, while Upton is the ranking member of the committee’s Subcommittee on Energy. McKinley is the ranking member of the committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change.

Power play

Chief among its power-related provisions, H.R. 1512 would establish a federal “clean electricity standard” aimed at putting the United States “on a path to 100% clean electricity generation by 2035,” according to the summary. To this end, the bill would require “all retail electricity suppliers to reach 80% clean electricity by 2030 and 100% by 2035,” the summary states.

Among its provisions intended to improve the U.S. electricity transmission system, H.R. 1512 calls for the establishment of an Office of Transmission within the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The new office would “help oversee the growing transmission system and provide assistance to state, local, and Tribal governments to help with permitting and siting of interstate transmission lines,” according to the summary.

As part of efforts to modernize and strengthen the electrical grid, the legislation would create a program within the U.S. Department of Energy to fund “projects that improve grid resilience and efficiency, as well as programs to fund development of microgrids for critical infrastructure and isolated communities,” the summary states. H.R. 1512 would authorize $700 million annually for this program from fiscal years 2022 through 2031.

Accelerating renewable energy

In another bid to reduce GHG emissions, H.R. 1512 would establish a nonprofit corporation to be known as the Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator. To be capitalized with $100 billion in federal funding over five years, the Accelerator would “leverage public and private funds to provide financing for clean energy technologies and infrastructure, climate resiliency, building efficiency and electrification, industrial decarbonization, transportation electrification, and more,” according to the summary.

Financing from the Accelerator would be available for renewable energy generation projects involving solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, ocean and hydrokinetic, and fuel cell technologies. Other eligible activities would include building energy efficiency, industrial decarbonization, grid technology to support the distribution of clean energy, climate resilient infrastructure, and technologies to facilitate clean transportation. At least 40% of the projects financed by the Accelerator would need to be located in “climate-impacted communities,” according to the legislation.

The bill’s transportation title includes provisions to provide rebates to entities that install publicly accessible facilities to charge electric vehicles. To reduce GHG emissions and air pollution at ports, H.R. 1512 would create a grant program to encourage the adoption of zero-emissions equipment or technology. To be administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the program would have an authorized spending level of $2 billion annually.

Environmental justice through water

Under the heading of environmental justice, H.R. 1512 contains several provisions related to drinking water. In particular, the bill would boost funding significantly for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund overseen by the EPA. The DWSRF was appropriated $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2021, according to a Jan. 11 report from the Congressional Research Service. Under H.R. 1512, the DWSRF would be authorized to receive $4.1 billion in FY 2022, $4.8 billion in FY 2023, and $5.5 billion in FYs 2024 through 2031.

Additionally, the bill would create a grant program to be overseen by the EPA to fund efforts by states to remove lead service lines from drinking water distribution systems. States receiving funding from the new program would be prohibited from conducting partial line replacements and would be required to “offer to replace any privately owned portion of the lead service line at no cost to the private owner,” according to the legislation. Authorized to receive $4.5 billion annually from FYs 2022 through 2031, the grant program would focus primarily on disadvantaged communities.

FERC and dam safety

To promote dam safety, H.R. 1512 would amend the Federal Power Act to require that FERC issue a new license for a hydropower facility “only if the Commission determines that the dam and other project works covered by the license meet the Commission’s dam safety requirements and that the licensee can continue to manage, operate, and maintain the dam and other project works in a manner that ensures dam safety and public safety under the operating conditions of the new license,” according to the legislation. Moreover, FERC would be required to “establish procedures to assess the financial viability of an applicant for a license under the Federal Power Act to meet applicable dam safety requirements and to operate the dam and project works under the license,” the legislation states.

In other dam safety provisions, Section 235 would require that FERC do more to inform states about certain activities it conducts regarding dams within their boundaries. For example, FERC would have to notify a state when a dam owner is required by the commission to make repairs following a safety inspection as well as if an owner fails to make required repairs within five years. In the event that FERC revokes a dam’s license, the commission would need to provide certain information to the state in which the dam is located.

These requirements represent a welcome congressional response to the failures of two central Michigan dams in May 2020, says Bill McCormick, P.E., P.G., the chief of the Dam Safety Branch within Colorado’s Division of Water Resources and president of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. The first of the two dams to fail — the Edenville Dam, near Midland, Mich. — had been subject to FERC oversight until May 2018, when the commission revoked its license for the facility (see “Michigan Dam Failures Prompt Investigations, Lawsuits, and Safety Concerns,” Civil Engineering, July/August 2020, pages 20-22).

“ASDSO is encouraged to see that Congress is focused on ways to establish stronger communication and coordination between dam safety regulators at FERC and within state dam safety programs, such as the dam safety provisions of H.R. 1512,” McCormick says. “The regrettable circumstances around the Michigan dam failures last spring clearly demonstrate that improvements can and should be made,” he notes. “Improving communication, coordination, and awareness of regulatory activities at the federal and state levels will reduce the risks posed by dams and improve public safety across the nation.”

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  1. Nice summary, easy to grasp the facts offered.
    While many of the democrat driven initiatives are hard for this engineer to understand or accept, congratulations to them and their hard work in recognizing civil works take time and money. Let’s hope special interest groups are not allowed to grab the money and spend it on social welfare programs rather than the concrete and steel infrastructr efforts required and summarized here. Hopefully, USEPA will stick to its technical roots (not launch grandstand great new ideas and programs) and just manage the funds using proven procedures like the clean water act did working with states and local governments to produce real results that cleaned up rivers and shores! It is unfortunate that clean energy reduction of carbon foot prints in the US does not include nuclear power like our European friends in France have always counted upon!


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